Papaya (Carica papaya) is a member of the Caricaceae (Paw Paw) Family and native to Central America. In Cuba "papaya' is slang for "female fruit" or "female genitalia," as the shrub, resembling a palm, has male and female trees and it is the females that bear fruit.
Papaya is neutral to cooling, sweet, bitter, and helps dry dampness. Papaya tonifies the stomach, and moistens the lungs. It is anti-inflammatory, antiparasitic, anti-tumorgenic (due to carpaine content), digestive aid, emmenagogue, and emollient.
Papaya has traditionally been used to treat allergies, arteriosclerosis, cancer, catarrh, colds, coughs, diarrhea, diverticulitis, dysentery, flatulence, gastritis, menstrual irregularities, rheumatism, stomachache, and ulcers. It can help reduce the risk of stroke and heart attack. When consumed regularly, papaya improves the health of the skin, hair, nails and eyes.
Papaya is high in beta-carotene, vitamin C, E, calcium, magnesium, and potassium. Papain is a protease (protein digesting enzyme) that is an anticancer agent. It is in highest concentrations in the milky juice of the unripe fruit. Little of it occurs in the ripe fruit. Papain is used to treat allergies, asthma, indigestion, chronic diarrhea, digestive disorders, gluten intolerance, hay fever, sports injuries and warts (topically) and weak lungs. In medicine, chymopapain, from papaya is used to treat ruptured discs and back pain. Papain powder is applied to bee stings to reduce pain and inflammation. Papain powder is also used as a tooth and gum cleanser. The ancient Mayans treated malignant ulcers using papaya leaves.
Papaya leaves are used as a poultice for wounds. The unripe fruit is used in facial masks to nourish the skin and lighten freckles, or applied as a poultice for tumors.
Select smooth, unblemished fruits that are heavy for their size. Look for at least half deep colored yellow orange and sometimes red fruits, avoid those that are all green, shriveled or have dark spots. A ripe papaya yield slightly when pressed. It is not suggested to eat the peel. They will ripen at room temperature. The dried fruits are often treated with sulfur dioxide or dipped in a sugar solution. . Enjoy papaya, plain, in fruit salads, pies, puddings, ice creams, salsas, and smoothies. The latex that exudes from the unripe fruit may cause contact dermatitis in some people.